The commitment to study, which takes up no small part of the time of those preparing for priesthood, is not in fact an external and secondary dimension of their human, Christian, spiritual and vocational growth. In reality, through study, especially the study of theology, the future priest assents to the word of God, grows in his spiritual life and prepares himself to fulfil his pastoral ministry.
[PDV#51] Intellectual formation is an important area in the preparation of the seminarian as a minister of the Gospel. He must grow in his knowledge and understanding of the faith that he professes and is to proclaim. But if he is to prepare himself as an effective preacher of this faith, he must also develop his knowledge and understanding both of the human person to whom the Gospel is addressed and of the world or the culture in which it is to be preached and lived. Hence the importance of the academic studies that contribute to the seminarian’s intellectual formation.
Philosophy is studied during the earlier part of the course and is usually accompanied by the study of some arts or science subjects. Philosophy leads the student to an understanding of the human person and the significance of human life, of the place of the person in relation to reality, and of the fate of the person. It nurtures an appreciation of human thought through the ages and in different cultural contexts. In its own right it is an autonomous and ancient discipline, but it also has an important relationship with theology, which in various ways depends on it and shares many questions with it. The proper intellectual formation of the seminarian and the study of theology require a knowledge of philosophy, and this is best pursued before he takes up his theology course.
The subjects in arts and science taken by the student alongside his philosophy studies contribute in their different ways to the broadening of the mind, the deepening of cultural appreciation, and the sharpening of intellectual interest. These qualities in the longer term help to equip the future priest for his ministry, and more immediately, prepare him for the broad range of studies that he will encounter in his theology course.
Seminarians entering first year have three options:
• Students who matriculate may do a three-year degree course in the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM) in either arts, philosophy, celtic studies or science. In either course, a wide range of subjects is available from which to choose. Seminarians are required to study philosophy as a subject to degree level. Aspirants for the priesthood who are precluded by their studies (e.g. Science, Celtic Studies) are required to take the One Year Diploma in Philosophy after their degree. • Students who have not matriculated but have reached a pass grade (A – D) in at least five subjects in the Leaving Certificate or its equivalent, of which three qualify as academic subjects in the NUI matriculation syllabus, are required to do a two-year non-degree Seminarist course in Philosophy and Arts. Students who complete the course successfully receive a diploma, and those who reach a higher standard may be recommended for a degree course (BD) in Theology. • A one-year diploma course in philosophy from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth is available to mature students entering the seminary. This course is particularly suitable for students who are already graduates of a third-level college.
Faith seeks understanding, and this understanding is the task and the goal of theology. Hence, so as to be able “to account for the hope that is in you” (1Pet 3:15), each seminarian is required to take a full course in theology. The study of theology helps the student to develop his knowledge of all that pertains to the Gospel, to penetrate more deeply into its meaning, and so to grow in his love for God, for the Church, and for all those redeemed by Jesus Christ. It encourages him as a believer to ask questions about his own faith in order to reach a more profound understanding of the faith itself. In this way faith and mature reflection are intimately connected in his theological study.
In addition, as one preparing to be a minister of the Word, the student needs an ever-deeper knowledge of the presence of God in our world. He will need to serve with the assurance of faith a society that is at times marked by religious indifference and by fresh problems and questions brought up by scientific and technological discussions. Through the study of theology the student will be enabled to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and to make it credible to the legitimate demands of human reason and of changing culture.
As the proclamation of the Word of God is a central part of a priest’s ministry each student is offered a comprehensive programme of speech training and homiletics throughout his time in seminary. In the earlier part of his course the emphasis is on public speaking. This is a two-year programme directed by a trained speech tutor. During his first two years in seminary each student is assigned to a small group which meets each week with the tutor, and he is given practical experience at developing his communication skills in a supportive, yet challenging environment. The student takes the end-of-course examination laid down by The Leinster School of Music.
In his theology years the emphasis shifts more specifically to the proclamation of the Word of God. While the training is nourished and informed by the content of theological studies, the approach is again practical. It includes preparing and delivering homilies, allowing for regular appraisal and evaluation of one’s style of delivery, content, etc. The programme helps the student to develop the skills and all the professional competence necessary to preach the Word of God. A full-time member of staff directs the programme.
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